South Korea's peak medical association on Friday called for an end to a doctors strike which has complicated efforts to curb a new wave of coronavirus infections after the government backed down on plans to reform the sector.
Trainee medics however rejected the deal and vowed to continue the walkout which began on Aug. 21 involving about 16,000 intern and resident doctors.
The trainee doctors oppose the reforms, which include increasing the number of doctors, building public medical schools, allowing state insurance to cover more oriental medicine, and expanding telemedicine.
The government says the initiatives could help tackle crises like the coronavirus, but the doctors argued it would only deepen the concentration of physicians in cities without improving medical infrastructure and work conditions in rural provinces.
Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said the government would halt the proposed reforms and discuss them again with the industry and the parliament once the coronavirus outbreak had stabilised.
Korean Medical Association President Choi Dae-zip signed an agreement with Park ending the strike and called on trainees to go back to work.
"Our shared goals of improving work conditions and building a reasonable medical system cannot be achieved by a strike alone," Choi said in a statement.
A key group of trainee doctors said they had not been included in the negotiations and vowed to continue the walkout.
Dozens of trainees, some wearing surgical gowns, protested at parliament holding banners condemning the "hasty agreement".
The government extended social distancing rules by one week for the Seoul metropolitan area to Sept. 13 as health officials reported 198 new coronavirus cases as of midnight Thursday, bringing the total to 20,842 with 331 deaths.
The daily tally fell below 200 for the first time in more than two weeks on Thursday.